The Good: A few good performances (Dawson, Dhawan, Stroup), Temple and Davos's characters
The Bad: Stick to the god damn plan, Danny. Seriously. Terrible plot, Lousy protagonists, Harold Meachum turns stupid, Stiff acting between Henwick and Jones.
The Basics: "Lead Horse Back To Stable" continues to diminish Iron Fist, Harold Meachum and Colleen Wing.
I am not one to bitch about things unnecessarily. When I panned the living crap out of the Iron Fist episode "Black Tiger Steals Heart" (reviewed here!), it's not like I didn't have some pretty good ideas about how the formula could not have been effectively shaken up. Entering "Lead Horse Back To Stable," it is hard not to reflect on the big twist from the prior episode. That is a spoiler alert.
Colleen Wing was exposed in "Black Tiger Steals Heart" as being a member of Bakuto's sect of The Hand. While that could have been a huge twist, it fell instead into the painfully familiar Marvel Cinematic Universe (especially Marvel Television) formula and it lacked emotional resonance. The truth is that over the course of the first nine episodes before Wing's reversal was thrown into the mix, Colleen Wing was not an interesting or well-rounded enough character to make the reversal have genuine impact when it came. Could it have been done better? Absolutely. After about two seconds of contemplation, it occurred to me that Colleen Wing's allegiance to The Hand could have been both good television and a clever twist within the Marvel Cinematic Universe if Wing had been devoted an episode that showed how she came to Bakuto and was groomed to be a part of The Hand. "Lead Horse Back To Stable" features an oblique reference from Bakuto about how he found Colleen and gave her purpose as a child, but it is on-screen exposition in the form of dialogue.
But, imagine for a moment, how Iron Fist would have been different if the first shot of the series had been a young girl in crisis being uplifted by Bakuto and his organization. If the viewer had followed Colleen Wing's journey from the very beginning, seen her train, get tested, become indoctrinated, show her emotional ties to other members of The Hand, even have her learn the name of her organization, become a teacher and recruit for The Hand, start teaching Colleen and be given the task of bringing Danny Rand to the Hand, her story could have had a real character resonance. Danny Rand is a pretty pathetic character in Iron Fist - a perception bolstered in "Lead Horse Back To Stable" by Davos pointing out that Rand has abandoned his post at K'un-Lun and left the monks there entirely in jeopardy - and Iron Fist might well have worked better if the viewer knew all along that he was a dupe and waited for the power of his reaction after getting tied to Colleen emotionally. But, instead, Iron Fist attempted the reversal in the tenth episode and it felt cheap and predictable and the viewer didn't flinch because they were not emotionally invested in Colleen Wing anyway.
Rosario Dawson's reaction as Claire Temple in "Lead Horse Back To Stable" is more profound than Danny Rand's reaction in "Black Tiger Steals Heart."
In a flashback, Danny Rand awakens from the Trials he endured imbued with the power of the Iron Fist and the tattoo (or brand) on his chest. He is awoken by Davos outside the cave where he endured his Trials and Davos pledges his loyalty and allegiance to Rand. In the present, Danny recovers slowly from his escape from The Hand's compound. He suffers flashbacks of his betrayal and his Trials and is unable to center his chi to summon the Iron Fist. While Rand and Davos figure out their next course of action, Wing and Bakuto square off at Colleen's dojo. At Harold's penthouse, Joy and Harold work to expose all of the corporate espionage of the board members at Rand Enterprises.
Claire Temple has a heart to heart with Davos about the nature of the Iron Fist's power. When Wing visits Temple, Wing tries to explain her perspective. While Wing exerts influence over her own apprentice, Danny Rand gives Harold Meachum all the information he has on Bakuto's operation. Harold plans to draw out Bakuto by closing the Rand Enterprises accounts that Bakuto is skimming from. Bakuto's ninjas come for Wing and she willingly surrenders to them to avoid public bloodshed. Feeling betrayed by Wing, Bakuto prepares to use Wing for one of The Hand's grotesque projects.
"Lead Horse Back To Stable" features a lot of exposition about the monastery at K'un-Lun and has Claire learning about the dragon who imbued Danny Rand with his Iron Fist power. Davos is presented in "Lead Horse Back To Stable" as a far more interesting character than Danny Rand. Davos trained with Rand to be the Iron Fist and he seems far more devoted the to cause than Rand. Davos clearly cares deeply about K'un-Lun and he was betrayed by the monks he served. "Lead Horse Back To Stable" makes Rand seem entirely like a slacker instead of a dupe.
Danny Rand is not a zen character and "Lead Horse Back To Stable" actually features a flashback scene that illustrates how he became bored with doing his duty and was inspired to abandon his post. While this explains the initial enthusiasm he had in the pilot episode of Iron Fist when Rand returned to New York, it only serves to diminish his character. When Rand declares to Wing that he is the protector of K'un-Lun, the viewer already knows that is not true.
Rosario Dawson and Sacha Dhawan are good in "Lead Horse Back To Stable." Temple and Davos have good scenes, despite being filled with pretty overt exposition, that feel very organic. Dawson gives a well-rounded performance in discussing things with Davos, reacting to Wing's betrayal, and diagnosing Danny Rand. Dawson continues to make Claire Temple a surprisingly compelling and vital character within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Dhawan does a good job of adding depth to a character who could easily come across as a heavy. Director Deborah Chow does a good job of focusing on Dhawan's reactions every time someone near Davos mentions having the power of the Iron Fist. Davos is being set up to be an Iago-like character and Dhawan plays that role better than Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick do the half-assed Romeo And Juliet thing in "Lead Horse Back To Stable." Unfortunately, "Lead Horse Back To Stable" includes some terrible character writing even for Davos. Davos and Rand were best friends and it is only in this episode that Davos tells Rand he wanted to be the Iron Fist?! Really?!
Much of the purpose of "Lead Horse Back To Stable" seems to be to impart to the viewer that K'un-Lun is vulnerable to attack. Danny Rand, however, is a pathetic hero who cannot stick to a single fucking plan and by this point in Iron Fist that is just irritating.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Iron Fist - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!
For other works with Ramon Fernandez, please visit my reviews of:
Revolution - Season 1
For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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